Three years after the former Odell’s nightclub was sold for redevelopment, the long-dormant building has new tenants and a new youth-oriented mission.
The Tudor-esque structure at 19-21 E. North Avenue will be converted to an arts and technology hub, with the help of a grant from a new investment fund designed to spark revitalization of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.
Young Audiences of Maryland/Arts for Learning signed a lease this winter to move its headquarters into the building’s first floor and basement by mid-2021.
The 70-year-old year organization, which works with schools and community groups to expose young people to the arts, is one of two nonprofits expected to occupy the building after it undergoes a $6 million conversion to office and teaching space.
Stacie Sanders Evans, president and CEO of Young Audiences, said the organization has outgrown its space at 2600 N. Howard St., in Remington, and needs to relocate. She also likes the fact that Odell’s was a beloved club.
“I love the fact that it was a nightclub where people came together and danced and expressed themselves,” she said. “I think it’s very fitting.”
Code in the Schools, an organization that works to expand computer science education in the classroom, has been negotiating a lease for the second floor, according to CEO Gretchen LeGrand.
Started in 2013, Code in the Schools has outgrown its current space in The Centre at 10 E. North Ave., and the move will give the organization more room while enabling it to stay close to the Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters nearby, LeGrand said. The renovated building will also have a classroom that Young Audiences and Code will be able to share. “It’s good for us,” she said.
The Odell’s building is being redeveloped by a joint venture of Jubilee Baltimore, headed by Charles Duff, and Property Consulting Inc., headed by Samuel Polakoff.
Duff and Polakoff acquired the 13,650-square-foot building for $400,000 in 2017 and have been seeking tenants who would be a good fit for it and for Station North. They’ve secured $835,000 in state tax credits for historic preservation to assist with the renovation.
Odell’s is one of three buildings in Station North that will be renovated with help from the Station North Investment Fund, a new program created to spur redevelopment of vacant or underutilized commercial structures in the arts district. The other two are the North Avenue Market and the home of the Baltimore Improv Group. They are the first places to benefit from the program.
The fund is administered by the Central Baltimore Partnership, made up of more than 100 organizations that have a stake in central Baltimore. It was created by legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly last year.
According to Ellen Janes, executive director of the partnership, and Jack Danna, director of commercial revitalization, eligible properties are along the North Avenue corridor between Howard and Calvert streets, with 20th Street as a northern boundary and Lanvale Street as a southern boundary. There are about 40 commercial buildings, containing about 400,000 square feet of space, that could benefit from the investment fund, Janes said.
Maryland’s Board of Public Works earlier this year approved $550,000 for the first group of projects to receive funding, and Odell’s was chosen to receive the highest amount, $300,000.
The building was constructed in 1905 with 16-foot-high ceilings and has been vacant since the early 1990s. It started as the home of a car dealership and later housed a series of restaurants and nightclubs.
According to Baltimore Heritage, the building was named Odell’s after owner Brock Odell, who opened Odell’s Restaurant and Bar in 1976. Odell died in 1985, and Odell’s continued as a night club until 1992.
Since then, the surrounding area was designated the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, artist spaces have opened up, and the Parkway Theatre has been restored, and both Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art have made the area a location for classrooms and film studios.
The Odell’s building was slated to be sold at auction in 2016, but Duff and Polakoff made an offer just before the sale and the auction was called off. They settled the next year.
Duff said his group still needs to secure more funds before it can start construction, but the Station North Investment Fund grant represents an important step in helping it bring the vacant building back to life.
Besides renovation of the interior, he said, the work will include restoring the exterior to the way it looked in the early 1900s, including reopening many of the original showroom windows at street level, from when the building housed a car dealership.
While the building will retain its Tudor appearance, he said, it will be painted different colors than it is now. Quinn Evans is the architect for the shell, and Ziger Snead is the architect for the Young Audiences space.
In addition to the money for Odell’s, about $200,000 will be allocated for façade restoration work and other improvements at the North Avenue Market, in the unit block of W. North Avenue.
Of that, $100,000 will be used to create a new retail and office hub at 12 W. North Ave., for the Made in Baltimore program, including a new storefront. Made in Baltimore is moving to a space previously used by a check cashing operation. Kelly Danz, now with Ziger/Snead, has been working on the design. The state grant will be combined with up to $30,000 in private funds to get the exterior and interior ready, including the addition of a mezzanine.
Another $100,000 will be used to help pay for façade enhancements, new signs and public space improvements to other parts of North Avenue Market, including Rituals (the bar in the old Windup space) and the corner space now occupied by the North Avenue Market arcade and Secret Sauce Co., at 30 W. North Ave., (formerly Red Emma’s). The entire investment will be about $645,000, Danna said.
According to Danna, the work is part of an effort to improve the market’s appearance by removing its metal roll-down doors and making other changes that restore the market to the way it looked in the 1920s, while enabling it to accommodate new tenants.
Architect Frank Lucas has developed a master plan to guide improvements that can be carried out in phases. Danna said the new Made in Baltimore storefront will be a template of sorts for other storefront restorations at the market.
“We don’t want roll down doors,” he said. “What we’ve found out is, the more inviting and open a space is, the less likely it is to be vandalized because it sends a signal …that this is a place that people like and are watching and care about.”
Finally, $50,000 will be used to help fund a $100,000 façade restoration project for the Baltimore Improv Group at 1727 N. Charles St., the former home of Everyman Theatre. Work involves creating a new storefront by opening up a window and installing a neon sign and maybe a marquee. Cannon Design is the architect, working pro bono.
Janes and Danna said the fund was created to get more redevelopment projects underway in Station North by bridging the gap between what funds an organization or developer has on hand and what it needs to complete construction.
Janes said the General Assembly typically has allocated state funds project by project, by approving a separate bond bill for each one. Creating a pot of money that can be replenished to assist multiple projects, she said, represents a more nimble approach to using state grants to spark redevelopment.
“The idea was that we would have flexible money that we would be able to use as projects reach the point where they can move forward,” rather than seeking funding one project at a time, she explained.
When older buildings are involved, the goal is to encourage a preservation-oriented approach as much as possible, Danna said. “Our approach with these dollars is to, if we can, always be restorative.”